I recently read an article in the Washington Post about the Montgomery County school board measuring hope, student engagement, and well-being in its 2000 or so schools. It is paying Gallup $900,000 over the next three years to help them do this. That certainly seems like a lot of cash for conducting hope surveys. That being said, I am certain of the importance of knowing how hopeful, engaged, and emotionally healthy your staff and students are. And methodically working on improving it.
Why? According to Charles Snyder’s Hope Theory, emotions follow cognition, not the other way around. If people have hope, they feel more capable and determined. For students, this means that if they have hope, they will take on challenging tasks or set challenging goals. Students who do not have hope tend to take on easier, less challenging goals that will likely not result in personal or academic growth. They give up more easily and have a tendency to feel and act helpless.
The same can be said for teachers. Those without hope feel that student learning won’t improve with different teaching practices. If teachers believe that at-risk students cannot learn to higher levels, then teachers tend to avoid engaging the students in higher levels of learning. They are less likely to try different approaches to help the struggling student master a concept. If one approach fails, they are more likely to quit. They are more apt to shrug their shoulders and say, “There’s nothing we can do.”
Synder’s theory contends that people who have hope, have the mindset and skill set that often leads to accomplishing tasks and goals. This means that students who are hopeful are more engaged in their learning and perform better. They will be more likely to stick to getting their homework done even if it gets difficult. They are more likely to be open to new ideas, new learning, and try new activities. In addition, when hopeful students experience difficult times, they tend to weather them better than students who have no hope.
Teachers, too, who are hopeful are more engaged in their teaching. It is easier for them to see the potential in their students and to challenge them accordingly. They are more likely to find ways to provide intervention for the struggling student. Teachers are more likely to be open to new ideas, new learning, and new practices, too. When difficult times arise and the budget is cut again, they tend to weather the storm better.
So, schools do need to measure hope, engagement, and emotional well-being in their students and staff. Is it worth $900,00 over three years? If it improves student learning it is, and the evidence supports it. Several studies have found that hope was more related to academic achievement than IQ, creative thinking, and conscientiousness. To expect high levels of learning in schools mired in hopeless and pessimism is like expecting flower gardens to grow out of the cracks in the concrete.
What are your thoughts about measuring hope in schools? Should schools stick to the basics, or is measuring hope worthwhile?